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The European Commission’s Decision on Ultra-Wideband Technologies: Frequently Asked Questions

Commission Européenne - MEMO/07/72   21/02/2007

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MEMO/07/72

Brussels, 21 February 2007

The European Commission’s Decision on Ultra-Wideband Technologies: Frequently Asked Questions

What is UWB?

Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a wireless technology providing short-range, very high-speed wireless communication between electronic devices.

Differently from other wireless technologies, a UWB transmitter sends out signals in very short pulses spread over many radio frequencies simultaneously. The timing of the pulses relative to each other contains the signals' information, which can be recovered by the receiver using sophisticated processing techniques.

Spreading the signal over many frequencies allows very high data rates of information. However, this spectrum is already also used by other radio applications, like satellites and radio astronomy stations. Therefore, UWB can only be allowed to operate at extremely low power to avoid interference with other equipment. For the applications this technology is targeting, it is possible to achieve acceptable results while avoiding harmful interference to other users.

For more technical information about UWB see for instance the WiMedia Alliance (http://www.wimedia.org).

What are its advantages?

The main advantages of UWB technology are high data rates, low cost and low power. This means that many types of devices in the home and business environments (laptops, mobile phones, TVs, DVDs, memory sticks, digital cameras, MP3 players...) could be networked wirelessly at a data rate that would effectively be impossible using “classical” radio technology. This is because of UWB's very large data rate (up to 500 Mbit/s currently and may become even higher later) at very low power and at low cost. The operation range is several metres, up to around 10 m, though the further away the devices are, the lower the data rate.

Low power also means longer battery life and mobility. UWB devices also include high resistance to eavesdropping and allow distances to be measured accurately. This feature can be used also for high-precision positioning and location identification in, for example, public safety applications.

What is the market potential of UWB? Will it be successful? When will UWB-enabled devices be on sale?

Some recent independent studies have put the potential global market of UWB in the millions of devices over the next couple of years, rising to hundreds of millions five years from now. While predictions concerning the ultimate scale of commercial success of this technology vary considerably, it is accepted that UWB can bring unique solutions to satisfy many requirements in the consumer market and in niche sectors such as remote sensing and tracking devices.

While product launches for early 2007 are now being announced for UWB-enabled devices such as laptops, printers and digital cameras, earlier predictions of time-to-market for UWB have proved optimistic, not unlike similar forecasts for other innovative technologies. Reasons given for the delay with UWB include difficulties ensuring interoperability of equipment between different vendors, market uncertainties due to two different competing UWB standards, and the prolonged process of regulating the use of UWB, a process made difficult by the need to protect all the other potentially-affected radio users. However, 2007 ought to see the launch of a consistent number of new products and 2008 a significant penetration of UWB on the market.

Ultimately, market success or failure is the responsibility of the private sector, and is due to many factors. The Commission does not take a formal view on this subject, although it notes that popular interface standards such as USB and Bluetooth have definite plans to migrate to UWB-enabled solutions. The role of public regulators and policy-makers is to remove undue barriers to any innovative technology, or it may not have an adequate opportunity to establish itself in the market on its own merits.

How does it compare with Bluetooth?

UWB and Bluetooth share characteristics of low power, short range and low cost. However, Bluetooth is a comprehensive wireless standard including all the various elements of transmitting and recovering data, while UWB is a wireless personal area networking technology, i.e. it is the means via which data is transmitted (the "radio interface"). As mentioned above, the next version of Bluetooth will use UWB as its transmission technology. In so doing, the speed of data transfer will increase potentially by several hundred times over existing Bluetooth applications. This may allow uses which are not possible at the moment. For example, instead of borrowing a movie in a DVD shop, one could download it at the "shop" (which could be located for instance in a super-market) directly to one's mobile phone and then transfer it to the DVD player at home.

Why does UWB need to be regulated? Why is the Commission involved?

As mentioned above, regulating the use of the radio spectrum for UWB applications is complicated by the fact that the large bandwidth of their signals means that they have to co-exist with a substantial number of “conventional” radio systems, such as mobile phones, broadcasting and air radio-navigation, all of which require protection from harmful interference to operate effectively.

While this protection is essential, the regulations for using radio spectrum for UWB need to balance all the existing services’ requirements against the objective of providing favourable conditions for introducing innovative technologies such as UWB to benefit society.

In Europe, as the promoter of European Community policy goals, the Commission has taken an active role to encourage progress and a policy-driven approach to this subject, rather than exclusively rely on technical studies. The Commission has striven towards a balanced result enabling UWB applications to be introduced in Europe with common rules, allowing the same equipment to be used throughout Europe, thus strengthening the internal market for information and communications technologies (ICT).

Furthermore, besides the evident benefits of ease of trading of UWB equipment between EU countries, the economies of scale of the large European market brought about by common rules will make UWB devices competitive in terms of costs compared to other markets, with the aim of avoiding the otherwise expected massive proliferation of equipment imported from the US or Asia and put into service illegally. This would ultimately risk a de facto acceptance of non-European rules which might not protect other radio users in Europe.

The European Union has also funded considerable UWB research under its research programme, see for instance, http://www.pulsers.eu/pulsers/. Such investments on behalf of the European citizen should not be jeopardised by an unsupportive regulatory environment.

How can we be sure no harmful interference will take place between UWB and other radio systems?

The Commission Decision and its technical provisions are based on the very extensive and detailed studies carried out formally by CEPT (the organisation regrouping all the national spectrum management agencies in Europe) for the Commission. This is the official approach according to the existing Community legal basis, the Radio Spectrum Decision (676/2002/EC)[1].

The CEPT and all interested parties used considerable resources over a number of years to study comprehensively many possible harmful interference possibilities and scenarios. Given that the use of the spectrum by large volumes of UWB devices is a new situation in spectrum management, the technical conclusions arguably err substantially on the side of caution.

If any evidence comes to light which undermines the technical results underpinning this regulation, the Commission has the possibility to take appropriate action.

What does the Decision imply for UWB manufacturers and users as well as national administrations?

The Decision specifies the technical conditions under which UWB devices can operate in specific spectrum ranges, thus creating the legal framework within which UWB is allowed. It is expected that this will allow for a mass market for these products to develop in Europe.

The present Decision has been developed in close cooperation with the Member States who cleared it in the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) last December. As a Commission Decision, its application is mandatory in the Member States, and national administrations need to incorporate it into national law within six months from its adoption. Failure to do so opens the possibility of formal legal proceedings against particular administrations.

Does this Decision cover all types of UWB technology?

No, this Decision is geared towards the use of UWB in mass-market consumer electronics applications. These are expected to be pervasive in the home and business environments and therefore particular care needs to be taken to ensure there is no harmful interference caused on other radio users by many UWB devices operating at once. Nevertheless, perhaps 90% of the whole market for UWB technology should be covered by this Decision.

Specific regulations for other useful applications of UWB, such as the ability to "see through" walls, are being considered. Such regulations will likely have different requirements and limits, since the applications are very different. Furthermore, another application of UWB, automotive short-range radar (SRR) to avoid car accidents has already been regulated by two earlier Commission Decisions[2]. The frequencies used by SRR are different, and are much higher in the spectrum (24 GHz and 79 GHz).

Are the rules governing UWB technology in Europe going to evolve?

Yes. One of the difficulties with regulating this technology is that there is as yet no significant experience with using the radio spectrum the way UWB proposes to. It may be that the conservative assumptions which underpin the current regulation can be relaxed following real-life experiences with UWB products.

Furthermore, a number of technical compatibility studies are still on-going, such as the use of UWB devices in cars, and the results will be reflected in new versions of this Decision as appropriate. It was nevertheless important to provide users with a first set of common rules to be able to benefit from UWB now.


[1] http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/radio_spectrum/docs/policy_outline/decision_6762002/en.pdf

[2]. Decision 2004/545/EC of 8.7.2004 on 79 GHz automotive short-range radars and
Decision 2005/50/EC of 17.1.2005 on 24 GHz automotive short-range radars


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